Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or, as we better know it, PTSD is, in the words of the American Psychiatric Association, defined as “a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.”
Before it was fully understood it was what was called “shell shock” after the first world war and “combat fatigue” after WWII.
We now understand it‘s not a condition that’s just limited to wartime horrors … it goes deeper, much deeper than that. As such, it’s probably more common than you may think.
It’s actually estimated to currently affect around 3.5% of the adult population from all walks of life. It’s also estimated that it will affect around 9% of us all at some stage in our lives and to varying degrees.
The cause is exposure to some form of highly upsetting, traumatic event. Just what that may be can vary dramatically. It’s an anxiety disorder caused by an event which is perceived as stressful, frightening or distressing to an individual.
This could obviously include the major natural disasters, the wartime horrors, the terrorist attacks, serious accidents but it could also include personal assaults, muggings, or even serious health issues or experiences. Basically, any situation deemed as traumatic to a person can result in PTSD. It may not manifest itself immediately either – sometimes it can occur months or even years after the event.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder manifests itself in the form of flashbacks and nightmares which cause the sufferer to, in effect, relive the traumatic event over and over again causing emotions of sadness, fear, anger, guilt, detachment and isolation. People with PTSD often completely avoid situations or people that cause them to recall the traumatic event.
The result can be life changing … irritability, insomnia, fatigue, lack of concentration and extreme mood swings are all common place. Often anyone with PTSD may have a strong negative reaction to such things as loud noise or unexpected touch. This reaction can often be involuntary but extreley violent. You can see therefore how PTSD can severely affect day to day life. Not just for the sufferer but for colleagues, friends and loved ones too.
Other side effects which are known to commonly occur alongside PTSD include depression, drug abuse and amnesia along with additional physical and mental health issues.
It really is absolutely vital therefore that professional, expert help is sought.
There is another officially recognised form of PTDA known as Complex PTSD.
As the name suggests, this is diagnosed when people have repeatedly been a victim of an ongoing traumatic situation such as ongoing abuse of some kind, long term neglect or regular violent outbursts.
Complex PTSD can take many years to manifest itself and be recognised. It can therefore be more severe if it’s as a result of events in early life, over a prolonged period of time and especially if caused by someone in a position of trust who may be even involved in t e person’s life currently ( a parent, step parent or relative for example)
The symptoms of Complex PTSD are similar to those of standard PTSD but, in addition they can include feelings of shame, difficulty in trusting people and forming relationships, cutting oneself off and separating oneself from friends and family. Emotions may be difficult to control resulting in suicidal thoughts, destructive behaviour and self-harm.
PTSD is treatable and the good news is that you CAN recover and learn to live again – even if it might not seem so right now.
Whilst we can provide info and some of the treatment programs will help in understanding the condition, there needs to be specialist help.
Following referral there are a number of treatment options including:
This consists of a monitoring of the current symptoms to establish whether they improve or worsen without treatment.
Antidepressants & Medication
If PTSD is accompanied by depression or insomnia then drugs may be prescribed to help manage the symptoms initially. These typically include drugs like paroxetine or mirtazapine.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a highly effective treatment for many forms of anxiety and phobias. This form is specifically adapted for PTSD. It involves a series of regular weekly therapy sessions each lasting around an hour and a half.
In very simple terms CBT is a talking therapy designed to help manage problems by changing the way you think and behave. TF-CBT has been adapted to address the specific emotional and mental health needs for those suffering from PTSD.
Read more about TF-CBT here >>>.
This is quite a new form of treatment that’s proven to help by reducing PTSD symptoms – especially being easily startled by noises or touch. It’s a little complicated to explain but it works by making the eyes move rhythmically whilst the traumatic event is recalled with the intention of creating a similar effect to the way the brain naturally processes events, experiences and memories whilst you’re asleep. Thus desensitising the trauma.
It’s probably easier that you read more about EMDR here >>>.
This may be prescribed to help repair damaged relationships and hence support the treatment process as required.
It’s perhaps a little more common than you may firts think. The NIMH report the following: 3.6% of adults had PTSD in the last year and 6.8% of us will likely suffer from it at some stage in our lives. The risk is far greater in females (5,2%) than males (1.8%). The highest risk agregroup is the 45-59 year bracket.
Of those who are affected by PTSD there is a 36.6% chance of impairment being serious, 33.1% moderate and for 30.2% of us impairment will be mild.
We only recommend professional help and intervention in the case of PTSD – it’s too complex to suggest self help treatment programs.